Funds for Grassroots groups in the gulf coast-discussion

colist at colist at
Sun Sep 4 16:55:29 CDT 2005

[ed:  Steve continues the discussion as well and offers an alternative.]

From: Steve Chase <schase at>

The Red Cross Is Great, But Here Is a Grassroots Alternative…

Dear Friends,

On Friday, I talked on the phone with my friend Marylee Orr, who lives in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. Marylee is the director of the Louisiana Environmental Action Network--a coalition of over 100 grassroots citizens groups throughout the now devastated state of Louisiana. I got to know her on the Department of Environmental Studies' field studies trip to Louisiana last March when 13 of our students got up close and personal with environmental justice issues in "Cancer Alley." Marylee helped our students out a lot during our trip and I have been fast friends with her ever since.

Here is why I love her. Marylee hasn't been up late every night out for the last week out of aimless worry about the many victims and the environmental tragedy left in the wake of the hurricane and official mismanagement of both the disaster prevention and response efforts. She's been up late because she is working hard to do something about the situation. As she told me on the phone on Friday afternoon, the federal government is not really on the ground doing much yet and, in some of the hard hit parishes in the state, even the Red Cross is not much of a presence yet. In the time honored tradition of grassroots citizenship for the common good, this gutsy woman is using the local contacts with grassroots activists, local officials, and Louisiana faith communities she has built up over 20 years to help close the dramatic gap between the intense need of the people of the Louisiana and the official response so far.

Just this Thurday, LEAN members provided an airdrop of food, water, and medical supplies to the trapped residents of St. Bernard and Plaquemine Parishes, two of the most inundated areas in the state. Saturday, LEAN dropped more supplies for stranded people in Washington Parish. LEAN is also working hard now to raise more funds to allow local people, working with local government leaders to provide direct, immediate assistance with all the efficiency that comes from not being a bureaucrat or an outsider. I've already made a contribution to the Red Cross to offer some assistance to the hurricane victims in Louisiana, but I've decided to write a check for ten times that amount to the Louisiana Environmental Action Network in order to support people that I know have both the big hearts and the local knowledge needed to help meet the crying humanitarian needs in Louisiana. I also know that LEAN won't just leave the area when the immediate crisis is over. LEAN will also work to address the toxic cesspool and chemical contamination that will be left behind when the water finally recedes. I’m asking everyone I know to join me in contributing money directly to LEAN for their local efforts in disaster relief. Every penny will be used well. I would trust Marylee with my life and I know her effort will save lives. Please dig deep and give as much as you can to: LEAN, 162 Craydon Avenue, Baton Rouge, LA 70806.

At the very end of our phone call on Friday, Marylee thanked me for pledging money and for my offer to encourage other folks to contribute to LEAN's disaster relief efforts, but she also asked for one more thing. She said, "We need financial contributions from all our friends around the country for sure, but we could also really use your prayers. It means so much to know that people around the country care." For people who want to send good wishes as well as their checks, please write to Marylee's group at lean at She likely won't have time to write back, but it will mean a lot to this hard working, non-sleeping group of local heros to know that our hearts and prayers are with them.

Below is an email I received from Marylee after our phone call.


September 2, 2005

Dear Friends of Louisiana,

Due to the catastrophic event of Hurricane Katrina there is an enormous need
for life-saving and life-sustaining supplies. At this time, the most needed
items are tetanus shots, insulin, IV fluids, as well as financial resources to
purchase and transport medical and food assistance directly to victims.

Louisiana Environmental Action Network (LEAN) is working closely with the
Office of Representative Brasso of St. Bernard Parish. Our contributions are
being immediately given to the residents of St. Bernard and Plaquemines Parishes,
two of the most inundated areas. LEAN feels that by working directly with
the parish representatives we are best able to assist in meeting the critical
needs of these victims and addressing the crisis in our communities.

The situation in Louisiana is heartbreaking and we hope that by working
together we can help save lives and improve the lives of those who have survived
this disaster. We would appreciate donations of medical supplies, food and
water, or funds to purchase these supplies. For example, yesterday, September 1,
2005, we purchased medical supplies such as aspirin, neosporin, syringes, hand
sanitizer, gloves, tylenol, bandages, and so forth. These supplies were
directly air dropped down today on September 2, 2005, to people stuck in St.
Bernard and Plaquemines Parish.

We can not thank you enough for caring about what is going on in our region.
Your prayers and support are greatly appreciated. Words can not describe the
suffering and courage of the people here. Please help us help our neighbors in
our home state. May God bless you for all your support, concern and prayers
during this tragic time.

With warmest regards,

Marylee Orr
Executive Director
Louisiana Environmental Action Network
162 Croydon Ave
Baton Rouge, La. 70806  

> From:
> Deirdre Silverman <deirdre at>
> In response to Randy's comments about the potential usefulness of an 
> organizing model in dealing with a disaster:
> Cuba has been hit by 3 major hurricanes in the last 2 years, one of 
> which passed directly over Havana. When we've contacted people and 
> organizations in Cuba asking if they needed help in the aftermath, the 
> response has been that they did not. This email explains how they 
> handled the evacuation of Havana.
>> This was sent to me by Ned Sublette this evening (Thursday, September 
>> 1).
>> I just spoke to nelson valdes, a walking encyclopedia of knowledge 
>> about Cuba, and asked him how civil defense is conducted in Cuba.
>> "Less than 2 months ago, cuba was able to move 1.7 million people out 
>> of Havana on short notice.
>> The whole civil defense is embedded in the community to begin with. 
>> People know ahead of time where they are to go. They come to your 
>> door and knock, and tell you, evacuation is coming, then they come 
>> and tell you, now.
>> If no electricity, they have runners who communicate from a 
>> headquarters to central locations what is to be done.
>> The country's leaders go on TV and take charge, but not only the 
>> leaders are speaking.  The TV weatherpeople are knowledgeable and the 
>> population is well educated about hurricanes.
>> They not only evacuate. It's arranged beforehand where they will go, 
>> who has family where. Not only pickup is organized, delivery of 
>> people is organized. Merely sticking them in a stadium is 
>> unthinkable.  Shelters all have medical personnel from the 
>> neighborhood. They have family doctors in Cuba (1 foir every 180 
>> families! DS), who evacuate together with the neighborhood, and 
>> already know who, for example,
>> needs insulin.
>> If they evacuate to a countryside high school -- a last resort -- 
>> they have dormitories there. They also have veterinarians and they 
>> evacuate animals.  They begin evacuating immediately, and also 
>> evacuate TV sets and refrigerators, so that people aren't relucatant 
>> to leave because people might steal their stuff.
>> It's not throwing money at the problem.  It's not financial capital, 
>> it's social capital. The U.S. in this sense has zero social capital. 
>> Dealing with hurricanes in Cuba, as compared with how it's done in 
>> the U.S., is similar to the differences in how they deal with 
>> medicine.  It's not reactive; it's proactive.  They act as early as 
>> possible. The US. doesn't have civil defense, it has civil *reaction.*"
> *Deirdre Silverman, Development Director
> Alternatives Federal Credit Union
> 125 N. Fulton Street, Ithaca, NY 14850
> phone (607) 273-4611 ext 816  fax (607) 277-6391 
> dsilverman at 
> <>
> *
> From: "David Chavis" <dchavis at>
> I think that the response of the national and local organizing 
> networks is admirable and most appreciated to raise funds for aid. Has 
> there been thought about organizing to help gain social control, 
> improve self help efforts, and most of all, demand a better response? 
> It seems to me that skilled organizing is as need as any assistance, 
> now and into the future.
> David
> ****************
> David M. Chavis
> Principal Associate/CEO
> Association for the Study and Development of Community
> 312 Frederick Ave.
> Gaithersburg, MD 20877
> 301.519.0722 ext. 109 (voice)
> 301.519.0724 (fax)
>> (I am dividing this thread into discussion of the issue and funds. 
>> This is the discussion sub-thread.]
>> From: "ACORN News" <acornnews at>
>> As we write this to you, thousands of New Orleans residents at the 
>> Superdome are stranded and without water. According to many news 
>> reports, people are dying from dehydration while 82 buses sit outside 
>> the Superdome. There are confusing reports about why they are not 
>> evacuating people.
>> We know for certain that there are ACORN members and their families 
>> in the Superdome. They need water. We do not know why FEMA is not 
>> bringing water. We also heard there was water available at the Ritz 
>> Carlton Hotel nearby, but we can't enter the city or reach folks there.
>> Please call your Members of Congress and ask them to pressure the 
>> Administration and FEMA to save the people at the Superdome. You can 
>> call toll-free 1-800-643-9557 and ask to speak to your representative.
>> Your immediate action right now can save lives.
>> *********************************
>> From: "PICO National Network" <sreed at>
>> Our hearts are broken over the death and destruction we are watching 
>> unfold in New Orleans and the Gulf Coast. We are filled with sadness, 
>> anger and many other emotions. So much of the relationships and 
>> history that connects us together as a network runs through New 
>> Orleans and Louisiana.
>> We are watching catastrophic failure by public officials to respond 
>> to those who are most vulnerable. Our brothers and sisters are dying. 
>> Everything we stand for says that each of us has dignity and that we 
>> are responsible for one another. Those who were able to flee tell us 
>> of overwhelming needs - to save the lives of those still in harms 
>> way, to shelter, feed and clothe those who have lost their homes, to 
>> rebuild homes, communities and congregations.
>> As a network we are responding with all the resources and love we have.
>> #1: As an immediate step we ask that you call your Congressperson and 
>> Senators and express your outrage at what is unfolding in New Orleans 
>> and ask that they use their power and influence to pressure FEMA and 
>> the Federal Government to do more to save lives now. Call the 
>> Congressional switchboard at 1-800-643-9557 and ask to speak with 
>> your member of Congress. The Whitehouse switchboard is (202) 456-1414.
>> #2: PICO organizations and congregations in Louisiana, Alabama and 
>> Florida are overwhelmed by the work they are doing to help those who 
>> have sought refuge in their communities. One way you can help is to 
>> send money or provide other resources to congregations and agencies 
>> that are providing refuge to people. Our organizations in Baton 
>> Rouge, Houma/Thibodaux, Baldwin County, and Pensacola can help you 
>> direct resources to those providing shelter. Call Alia Zaki, PICO 
>> Operations Manager, who is coordinating this effort. Her phone 
>> number: 619-501-1804 (azaki at We have also been told 
>> that the Red Cross (1-800-435-7669) is another good way to provide 
>> assistance.
>> #3: We are working to match up PICO federations and congregations 
>> with sister congregations from New Orleans to help make sure people 
>> get the help they need to rebuild their lives and communities. STAY 
>> #4: We have created an information board at: 
>> if you have information that 
>> you want to share or if you are looking for information.
>> Our deepest prayers go out to our brothers and sisters who have lost 
>> so much that they have the strength to go on. We pray that our public 
>> officials act always with the understanding that in God’s eyes each 
>> of our lives is precious and that we must do everything in our being 
>> to save each other.
>> ****************************
>> From:
>> Andrew Schoeneman <mistershoney at>
>> As are many who've watched the Gulf Coast nightmare unfold from afar, 
>> I am alternately reduced to tears and furious about how the situation 
>> has been handled. It is a given in this country that poor people and 
>> people of color are forgotten and left behind in greater numbers than 
>> the privileged, but what do we do about it when the stakes become so 
>> high so fast and the relief efforts immediately become so centralized 
>> and so top-down (and so inept!)?
>> In addition to being about creating an alternative power structure 
>> and an alternative avenue for addressing community issues, it strikes 
>> me that organizing is very much simply about creating an alternative. 
>> Period. We don't want to play the game, or even win the game; we want 
>> to come up with a new game. So what is the alternative that we'd like 
>> to create in this horrid aftermath? How can we act? In addition to 
>> learning from this collosal mistake, as Randy suggests, how can we 
>> put our tools to use NOW? It goes without saying that local 
>> organizing efforts should get our unwavering support during the 
>> weeks, months, and years of putting lives and communities back 
>> together. But for those of us who are NOT local, how can we provide 
>> concrete examples of how the values that us self-described liberals 
>> and progressives and radicals are so good at talking about can 
>> translate into action? Clearly there are many gaps in the 
>> military-corporate model of disaster relief. Clearly there are a lot 
>> of things people COULD be doing besides clicking on "donate" on the 
>> Red Cross website. But what are they? Provide shelter for the 
>> displaced? Build decent affordable housing where there used to be 
>> decrepit shacks? In this case perhaps it is ourselves who need 
>> organizing as much, or more, as the people and communities who are so 
>> often targeted for organizing efforts. I know craigslist has become a 
>> resource for people looking to offer practical help, but there are 
>> the usual issues that go along with internet-based strategies, 
>> particularly lack of access. Are there other efforts that anyone 
>> knows about?
>> I know I am asking more questions than providing answers or 
>> suggestions, and I'm sure I'll get slammed for saying that people who 
>> don't know the community should come in and start doing stuff without 
>> identifying concerns through a bottom-up process. But that's not the 
>> point, or that's not MY point anyway. I'm just saying that I think 
>> sometimes we are so adament about not pushing any agenda that we lose 
>> sight of the fact that we too are implicated in this mess. We've 
>> screwed up, not just "them." So what can we
>> Andrew Schoeneman
>> Richmond, VA
>> colist at wrote:
>>> <><><><><><><><><><><><><><>
>>> This is a COMM-ORG "colist" message.
>>> All replies to this message come to COMM-ORG only.
>>> <><><><><><><><><><><><><><>
>>> [ed: please feel welcomed to copy COMM-ORG with responses to Mark's 
>>> query. And feel welcomed to discuss the community organizing 
>>> dimensions--which are many--of this disaster. A bit from me about 
>>> this below.]
>>> From: "Mark Sherman" <MSherman at>
>>> Hi,
>>> We're wondering what funds have been set up by or for the grassroots
>>> groups that have been doing work in the Gulf Coast areas destroyed by
>>> the hurricane. We'd like to get them pubicized.
>>> We found that ACORN has started a fund (based on looking at their
>>> donation page, but there is not yet information about it on their home
>>> page) and we've blogged about it on PTP's web site. We're looking for
>>> requests from other area community organizing groups or funds oriented
>>> to them to publicize.
>>> Does anyone else have some links to share?
>>> Mark Sherman
>>> Executive Director
>>> Progressive Technology Project
>>> msherman at
>>> 2801 21st Av S, Ste 132E
>>> Minneapolis, MN 55407
>>> 612-724-2600 ext 15
>>> Toll-Free 1-866-298-6463
>>> FAX 612-395-9153
>>> ***********************
>>> [ed: As an outsider to this horrific event, I am speaking out of 
>>> ignorance except for almost constant watching of the local New 
>>> Orleans news webcasts. But from what I have been learning from those 
>>> webcasts, I have seen again and again what appears to be the failure 
>>> of authorities to get the most from the people of New Orleans. 
>>> Locking up people in the Superdome, and not organizing them to care 
>>> for themselves and perhaps even preventing them from caring for 
>>> themselves, amazes me. Every report gave the impression that those 
>>> running the Superdome lockup didn't bother to organize people into 
>>> teams to collectively manage and clean the place. Now they are being 
>>> sent to the Astrodome, and will the mistakes be repeated? In another 
>>> case, volunteers that arrived with boats for search and rescue were 
>>> prevented from going out instead of organizing and providing a quick 
>>> training. I have been thinking for the past three days, what would 
>>> an organizer do? And it just seems that there are so many 
>>> fundamental lessons being neglected. Of course, I am not there, and 
>>> have no idea of the practical difficulties, but I hope that the 
>>> people who are there, when they have the chance to take a breath, 
>>> reflect on whether some of the basic lessons of community organizing 
>>> could be deployed the next time something like this happens.] 
>>> _______________________________________________

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